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Some Russian and Chinese citizens escape repression

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Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis(@fridaghitis) former producer and correspondent for CNN, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion contributor for CNN, a columnist for the Washington Post, and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this comment belong solely to its author.

(CNN) — The leaders of the world’s two largest autocracies, China and Russia, like to promote themselves by contrasting their countries with the West, asserting that their regimes are hierarchical cream for Western-style democracy. However, as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin double the suppressed, a growing number of its citizens have decided they’ve had enough. The practice of “voting with your feet,” or leaving the country, tells the story of those who could go to jail for expressing their opinions openly.

For some, escaping autocracy is becoming more and more attractive.

In China, the term “xue ran“, either”philosophy of escape“. The sentence, which so far has not been blocked by Chinese web censors, is attracting a lot of interest online. I ZhihuChinese question and answer forum, “run xue” page received nearly 9.2 million hits.

The most striking evidence of the pressure to flee is the number of asylum applications. Most people don’t take that path; most go through a normal emigration process, perhaps looking for a job, applying to school, or investing abroad to get a visa. But the last resort is the asylum process, which is complicated.

Since Xi took power in China in 2013, the number of asylum applications having grown almost eight times, nearly 120,000 arrived last year, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and about 75% of asylum seekers applied to live in the United States.

The large number of asylum seekers last year was only the tip of the iceberg. They tend to be the ones that leave through formal channels middle class and upper class. Others, like Wang Qun, who allowed CNN to follow his odyssey from China to the United States, crossed the entire world to reach the US-Mexico border.

Wang was clear about the motivation behind his decision to leave China: “In the years since Xi Jinping came to power, China’s policies are becoming stricter, the economy is not doing well… and (a) dictatorship only getting worse.”

Xi is not China’s first authoritarian leader, but his cruelty and ambition they surpass most of their recent predecessors. It has even paved its way for a rule that could be for lifeIf you want.

Under Xi’s leadership, the regime created what they call “vocational training centres“, says China fight religious terrorism and separatism, but its critics in the international community to deny as”genocide“.

And in Hong Kong, the regime cracked down hard on free speech and basically broke the commitment signed by Beijing to allow Hong Kong to run its own affairs democratically until 2047. Beijing’s brutal crackdown on Hong Kong freedoms has unleashed mass incitement. wave of emigrationthe highest number since the government began recording numbers in 1961.

In mainland China, the nightmare of Xi’s so-called anti-Covid policy was the last straw “zero-covid”, a major push to eliminate all traces of the coronavirus. China’s anti-covid campaign made almost every other country half-hearted. Entire cities have been brought to a standstill, completely locked down for a handful of cases, leaving people confined to their homes for weeks, sometimes without enough food.

This would be unthinkable in a democracy.

Then there is Russia, led by Putin, Xi’s partner in promoting authoritarianism.

Like the Chinese, millions of Russians have chosen to ignore or at least tolerate Putin’s crackdown while the economy is doing well. The IS putin approval ratings, as far as they can be believed, they are still very high. It has strong, if not complete, popular support, mainly because the media rules of communication, feeding the people with a fixed diet propaganda. Those who dare to criticize his government, who, like Xi, could continue in power as long as he wants, they were in prison, poison or both. Others have suffered unfortunate “accidents”, such as falling out of a window. It is enough for most to choose to stay out of politics.

But when Russia invaded Ukraine, the repression intensified, making life under Putin’s rule even more intolerable for many. Because of Orwellian norms, like the ban on using the word “war” to describe, well, war, survival in Russia and the preservation of human integrity have been made almost impossible for those who know the truth and who reject what their country is doing. There was a woman, for example, in a Moscow square holding a piece of paper that said: “Two words.” Probably the unspoken words, for which so many people were arrested: “Nyet voinye”, or “no to war”. She was caught in seconds.

After Russian troops entered Ukraine in February, The Economist and the Russian human rights project OVD-Info they made an account more of it 15,000 arrests.

There are no exact statistics, but Google searches for “How to leave Russia” reached a 10-year high. In mid-March, a Russian economist estimated that 200,000 people had left. A migration expert estimated that another 100,000 abroad decided not to return. It is believed that up to two million they have disappeared since Putin came to power. Buoyed by worried demographics, Putin has just revived his prize of the Stalin era, the “Mother heroine“, which rewards women who have 10 children with one million rubles, about $16,500.

New groups of exiles emerged in the Republic of GeorgiaArmenia and Turkey, with thousands remaining for Australia, the United States, Israel (spurred by the revival of anti-Semitism) and elsewhere.

That was five months ago. Now, as Putin’s war comes to an end sixth month without victory, the crackdown on dissent shows no signs of respite.

The first wave that left the country included those who felt the most direct threat: political activists, writers, artists. Now the second wave has emerged. It includes some of those who tried to keep their heads down: businessmen, families, ordinary people who want to get out of a system that only wants to win over his neighbor and crush criticism at home, but also to be a pariah international. .

Putin and Xi will continue to claim that their systems are better than democracy. They will point out the flaws, the struggles of democratic systems, which certainly exist. But those who disagree at home, unable to express themselves, will shut up, keep their criticism in barely audible whispers, or vote with their feet, heading for freer lands .

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